Far North

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 December 2008

Venue: London venues tbc and key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Asif Kapadia

Based on: short story by Sara Maitland

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Sean Bean, Michelle Krusiec

UK/France 2007

89 mins

British director Asif Kapadia made his feature debut in 2001 with the stunningly confident The Warrior, an epic, mystical tale of redemption set in the Indian desert, which received a rapturous response from the critics. Despite this initial success, it took Kapadia seven years to get his second feature made and distributed, but the film is certainly worth the wait. Based on a short story by Sara Maitland, Far North focuses on two women living in the Arctic Circle, isolated from all until one day they rescue a stranger. Harsh and beautiful in equal measures, Far North confirms Kapadia’s unique talent and is one of the unmissable films of the festive season. Virginie Sélavy interviewed Asif Kapadia at the London Film Festival, where the film premiered last year.

Virginie Sélavy: Just like The Warrior, Far North is set in an inhospitable, spectacular wilderness. It seems that for you the location is just as important as the story or the characters.

Asif Kapadia: First, I find a story that I like and with both films, The Warrior and Far North, the stories were linked to a place. The Warrior was always a type of Western for me, which meant shooting in the desert, with horses and all that, and that led to shooting in India. Far North came from reading a short story that my co-writer Tim Miller had given me, by an English feminist writer called Sara Maitland. It’s a very short short story, only six pages long, and the idea is that two women, one older woman and one younger, live on the ice in the middle of nowhere, surviving off whatever they can kill – it’s a pretty extreme location. On the ice, they meet this injured soldier, they take him in, and this sort of triangle forms between the three of them. So the inhospitable place was part of the narrative from the beginning.

VS: The images of the frozen landscape are breathtaking but the point is not just about how beautiful nature is, it’s as much about how hostile and awe-inspiring it is and how small man is in the middle of it all.

AK: Absolutely. That was a very important part of the story. It was crucial for me to show how dark and extreme and dangerous this place is, and it’s what drives Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) to do what she does. It’s out of desperation that people do desperate things. In a place like that, any food you get is so vital. If they find a seal and they kill it, they’ve got food, they get clothing, you use all the bones to make all of your tools – survival is everything. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to film somewhere where you really believe that it’s all about survival. Inherently that was what the short story was about.

VS:There seems to have been a shift in how you see nature from The Warrior to Far North. In The Warrior, nature is serene and majestic and it’s a counterpoint to the violence of men, whereas here the violence of men is very much integrated into the violence of nature.

AK: In a way, this is like yin and yang, an inverse to the story of The Warrior, which is this journey of redemption where, no matter where you come from, there is hope that you can always change. In Far North, the journey of the character is a very dark one. The Warrior was an Eastern, more spiritual film; it was warmer. In Far North, it’s the opposite; it’s hard, it’s dangerous. I got left behind by one of the guys I was following in the middle of the darkness when there could have been a polar bear anywhere on this island. Those polar bears are so fast and so dangerous, no one would ever find your body. And you really sense that when you’re there. When you’re looking up at one of these huge glaciers it’s beautiful, but you know that a huge chunk of ice could collapse at any moment, and if you’re on a boat in front of it it’ll form a huge tidal wave. I wanted to get across this element of tension that’s in the air in a place like that. And the tension is also about who you can trust. Generally, over there you can’t trust anyone, whether they’re trying to sell you animals, or whether they’re going to try to kill you or steal your food or your clothing. That is something that is inherent in this world and it was very important to convey that. So in my mind the two films work together. What we’d like to do with my co-writer is to try to make a quartet of films, a film in the East, that’s The Warrior, this is the film in the North, and next we’ll do a film in the South, maybe in Latin America, and then maybe a western. They’re four different kinds of morality tales dealing with people within their landscape.


Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Read the rest of the interview in our winter print issue, which is explores celluloid snow with articles on Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, Aki Kaurismäki’s Calamari Union, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Christmas slasher movies and cult Japanese revenge tale Lady Snowblood. You can buy the current issue online, order back issues, or subscribe to the magazine at Wallflower Press. Subscription is £12 UK or £15 overseas for four issues of Electric Sheep (incl. P&P) – buy online from Wallflower Press and get a 15% discount! For gift subscriptions please email Wallflower Press.


DA Pennebaker

Format: Cinema

Title: Return of the War Room

Directors: DA Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus

Distributor: Sundance Channel

USA 2008

82 minutes

Screened at: Sheffield Doc/Fest

5-9 November 2008

More info on the Sheffield Doc/Fest website

The Return of the War Room is the companion piece to The War Room, the ground-breaking 1993 documentary by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus that went behind the scenes of Democrat Party candidate Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential election campaign to focus on the tireless staffers who pioneered the political concept of ‘rapid response’. The new film, which was financed by the Sundance Channel, catches up with Team Clinton 16 years later, allowing those involved to reflect on their victory and the unconventional approach that was adopted to take the Governor of Arkansas to the White House. Pennebaker was one of the founders of the Direct Cinema/cinéma vérité movement of the 1950s, and he has since aligned his interests of music and politics with documentaries such as the legendary Don’t Look Back (1967), which followed Bob Dylan on his first British tour in 1965. He later partnered both professionally and personally with Chris Hegedus, and the couple formed a company to specialise in documentaries that sidestep traditional voice-over narration and interviews in favour of capturing interesting individuals in real-life situations. Recent projects have included the concert film Down from the Mountain (2000), which contributed to the commercial breakthrough of bluegrass music, and Startup.com (2001), which chronicled the short-lived internet business boom of the new millennium. John Berra met with Pennebaker and Hegedus at the Sheffield Doc/Fest to discuss the evolution of campaign strategy, the similarities between musicians and politicians, and why their documentaries are, in fact, plays.

John Berra: The Return of the War Room comes 16 years after The War Room. Was this an opportunity to comment on how the political landscape has changed with regards to campaigning since 1992?

Chris Hegedus: Definitely, we are interested in the ways campaigns evolve and they changed while we were making the film. Every day there was some aspect of technology that would not only be ground-breaking but change campaign strategy. They had some internet fundraising, and it all of a sudden took off, and then it was people making movies with their phones and putting them on the internet and catching the politician saying something he didn’t want to be seen saying. It became obvious that a candidate did not have one moment of his public life when he could be unaware.

JB: The War Room was a new concept that influenced the campaign strategy of the Labour party in 1997. What was the reaction to the events depicted in the first film in 1992?

DA Pennebaker: The film was received in different ways in different countries. In France it was successful, but in Germany, to see a politician who was younger than 80 years old was shocking. They didn’t know what to make of it!

JB: The original film was supposed to be a study of the Democrat Party candidate Bill Clinton, but he did not want a camera crew following him around. How did you feel about adjusting your focus to the staff of his War Room?

DAP: I thought we were lucky because my experience with the candidates of the major parties is that you don’t really get anything that surprises you, but we were with people who were wonderful characters who really said what was on their minds, and it made it a better movie. I had started a film with Bobby Kennedy because I knew he was going to run, and I had said, ‘I would like to make a film about you, and the end of the film will be you walking into the White House’. But it was too expensive and I couldn’t raise the money to do it. Kennedy would have been good because I knew him, and he would have talked, but trying to dissect the person who is looking to be the perfect candidate, who wants to share every religion, is not realistic; he becomes a cartoon figure.

CH: We were just so lucky that we stumbled across James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. James Carville was brilliant, he was so eccentric, like someone’s drunken uncle at a party, and then you would have this opposite, this brilliant Rhodes scholar, so you would have this buddy thing going on, and on top of that, James’s girlfriend [Republican Party strategist Mary Matalin] was running the Bush campaign. It was absurd.

JB: That relationship plays an important role in both films. Were you aware that James and Mary were romantically involved before you started filming?

DAP: We don’t really edit that way. We’re trying to make a piece of theatre, which means we’re thinking about people sitting in the fifth row and what is going to keep their attention. Carville was behind things like ‘the economy, stupid’. He’s a guy who manages to take these realities and squeeze them down to an epigram and everybody understands it right away, so when he was talking to George we would keep an eye on him. But you don’t make them think that you’re looking to make them be something that they aren’t. They have to feel that the film you’re making is really representative of what they do because they dig what they do and they want people to know what they do.

JB: You have made celebrated documentaries about both music and politics. Is the circus that surrounds artists similar to the one that surrounds politicians?

DAP: They’re not too different. They both have a career based on a talent that they happen to possess, and how they came to decide to exercise it, you don’t know. Musicians are people who, when they go to the party and there is no instrument to play, slip out of the window. They don’t know what to do with themselves.

CH: What they both have is the character to provoke something, they are both taking risks with their careers, and the good ones feel authentically for what they are trying to do. It makes them very similar, and it makes for a very sympathetic character.

JB: Startup.com is probably your most downbeat film in that the subjects suffer the failure of the dot com boom. Is it difficult to remain professionally detached when the people you are documenting experience such bad fortune?

CH: It’s very hard because you become their friends. Even though these guys were really young, they were part of this very exciting moment and within three months they raised $60 million. Their website wasn’t a goofy website. It was actually a very useful government website which had some really good ideas and a lot of altruistic ambition, so it was very sad. You kind of wanted to say something and intervene, but you don’t know the whole story as a filmmaker.

JB: Don, you were a pioneer of the Direct Cinema movement in the 1950s, and yet you have often described your documentaries as ‘plays’. Is that because you look for a narrative and emotional arc within the subject?

DAP: I used to read a lot of plays, and I think that the idea of dialogue driving a situation is what plays are. But in the early days of movies, documentaries were silent; you hired a religious zealot to play organ music over the film because you didn’t have cameras that could shoot synch-sound, so you couldn’t get what happens in a real situation. I think that the theatrical experience is very important to people. I know it’s not real, and I know those people are just actors, but the minute it starts, all that recedes, and all I see is the situation, and I want to know where it’s going to go, and I can follow that through the dialogue.

CH: We do look for situations that have some theatrical arc to them, especially when you make the kind of films where you’re following someone’s life. Return of the War Room was a challenge for us because it was our first interview film, which proved to be a strange new experience. We started out trying to shoot people in their real lives, but that didn’t work out because George Stephanopoulos ended up being owned by ABC Television, and they would only allow us to film him for 45 minutes sitting in a chair. We thought it would be weird to have all this real-life stuff with everybody else, and then George sitting in a chair, but what people were saying was so interesting, that all that other stuff just fell away.

JB: Return of the War Room features footage of Barack Obama, but only passing reference is made to his campaign. Did you not want to compare Obama-mania with the Clinton campaign of 1992?

CH: There were already two filmmakers who were making a film about him, and they were very protective of their access, and we shot this at the end of the spring when the Hilary-Obama dynamic was going on, so we never had a moment. Like our other films, whatever the people talked about was where the film went and that directed us.

DAP: There is no long-term plan. Making one of these films is like wandering into one of those gardens you have here in England, a maze, and you go in knowing it’s going to be a maze but there is a movie there; every turn is a surprise, and that’s interesting because you have to take that turn into consideration.

Interview by John Berra



Club Deluxe

29 November-30 December 2008

Venue: ICA, London

ICA website

The ICA cinema opened in April 1968 on the Mall, right in the middle of a year marked by revolutionary mayhem all over the world. It was a fitting birth for a cinema that explicitly devoted itself to the screening of radical, challenging and often sexually open and politically engaged films. In order to be able to screen these movies, some of which had come under fire from the British censors, the cinema was run as a private members’ club (something that is reflected in the title of the season, Club Deluxe). This allowed cinema programmer Hercules Belleville to show such films as Weekend (1967), Jean-Luc Godard’s incendiary denunciation of Western bourgeois society, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salí² or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), a devastatingly dark allegory of Mussolini’s murderous last months in power. Both were banned by the British Board of Film Classification, for ‘sexual and political subversion’ and ‘gross indecency’ respectively. Salí² did not receive UK certification until 2000, which only confirms how vital a role the ICA cinema played in its early years, allowing audiences access to films that would have been impossible to see otherwise.

The first film to be screened at the ICA was Don Levy’s Herostratus. Brutal and beautiful in equal measures, this story of a young man who sells his suicide to an advertising agency remains a strikingly idiosyncratic entry in the history of British filmmaking. It was a clear declaration of the Institute’s determination to focus on the experimental, alternative side of cinema and in the following decades the ICA championed the work of Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman and Derek Jarman among others.

The ICA always showed a strong interest in the cinema of the Far East, in particular Hong Kong, and was among the first to screen the work of Wong Kar Wai and Takeshi Kitano. They also enthusiastically supported Japanese animation and their 1992 Manga! Manga! Manga! season introduced Londoners to many animé classics for the first time. This dedication to animation continues to this day with the annual Comica festival, while two of this year’s best animé releases, Origins: Spirit of the Past and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, had their only theatrical run at the ICA.

In the last two decades, however, it is undeniable that the ICA has lost some of its edge, and the bulk of its programming has tended to be dominated by middle-of-the-road indie fare. Films such as Kitchen Stories (2003) or Blame It on Fidel (2006), for instance, were decent but dull. This, of course, poses the eternal question of how radical you can remain once you become an institution. However, at a time when the number of outlets for independent film distributors has been drastically reduced, the ICA still has a crucial part to play on the London scene. Where else would you see an oddball silent movie from Argentina like La Antena? Or the absurdist South Korean thriller A Bloody Aria? These two films have made it on to several best-of-2008 lists here at Electric Sheep, and yet, without the ICA, they may never have had a theatrical release in London. Here’s to hoping that a look back at its exhilarating history will re-energise the ICA’s film programming and entice the Institute’s powers-that-be to épater le bourgeois once more.

Ellie Kent



The Close-Up Video Library

139 Brick Lane, London E1

Close-Up website

With its friendly, modest style, heartfelt passion for film and refreshing lack of interest in profit, the Close-Up Video Library is a wonderful place. Founded by Damien Sanville three years ago, ‘Close-Up is a private company only on paper’. ‘Unlike other film outlets in London’, he explains, ‘it is run like a public service – a film library – and the money we make goes straight into new acquisitions’.

In addition to its extensive collection of the best, worst and weirdest in everything from early cinema and classics to experimental and video art, Close-Up also devotes part of its impressive shelf space to the works of independent filmmakers that have not been picked up or were never made for wider distribution. ‘So far, we’ve managed to get about 11,000 titles together’, says Sanville. ‘We are not comparable to the BFI or the Lux, in terms of special collections, archive holdings or electronic resources, but we have got the largest collection of films in the UK on DVD and video, including lots of titles – especially in the experimental section – that are not available at any other national film archive or arts institution at present.’

What’s more, at Close-Up all these films can be rented by anyone, an ease of access that would be unthinkable in other arts institutions with a collection of such magnitude and rarity. ‘When I first started Close-Up, it was only to make enough money to be able to carry on making my own films’, says Sanville. ‘But very soon after we acquired the first films, especially in the arts and experimental section, we started to think that this could become a sort of reference for students, filmmakers, anyone with a cultural interest.’ With a growing database of 7000 users, it is only a matter of time before Close-Up acquires the reputation it deserves as a continuously expanding archive of internationally renowned cinema. Together with Close-Up Manager Karin Harfmann, Sanville has a great vision for the future of the library: ‘We hope that we will not only be able to buy more great films as they come out, but also that very soon we can make the library free to all our members.’

Essentially, the plan is to turn the current Close-Up rental plan into a membership fee that costs no more than £40 per year. ‘Our members would then benefit not only from access to the entire film collection, but also from free entry to all the public screenings and special events organised by Close-Up’, Sanville explains. None of this is going to be easy of course, especially with no financial backing at hand. As a first step, Close-Up launched its own distribution arm in 2008 alongside a new online retail system, which means that anyone can support the film library by purchasing a DVD, book or magazine though the website. ‘Things are starting to kick in slowly’, says Sanville, ‘and we’ll try to get some sponsorship money from the Film Council too’.

Close-Up is an astonishing achievement as it is, but one that demands staggering levels of commitment from Sanville and his team. So it’s great to hear that Sanville has managed to keep his enthusiasm about the library: ‘To tell you the truth, sometimes I’d much rather just work in a place like this, rather than own it, and feel completely free. But then I pick up some obscure shorts or a rare masterpiece from our collection and I know exactly why I am doing this, I love it!’

Pamela Jahn


Gushing Prayer

Wild Japan: Sex in Japanese Cinema of the 60s and 70s

1-30 December 2008

BFI Southbank, London

BFI website

Japanese pinku eiga, (‘pink films’) from the 60s and 70s have become more widely available in the West thanks to recent DVD releases that include Norifumi Suzuki’s Sex and Fury (Fabulous Films), Yasuzo Masumura’s Blind Beast (Yume Pictures) and the Female Convict Scorpion series (Eureka), but the genre remains under-explored in spite of its importance in Japanese cinema. Although it is not solely focused on pink films, Wild Japan, a new BFI season curated by Jasper Sharp and Matt Palmer, brings many rare gems of the genre to London’s Southbank, making it an unmissable event.

Throughout the 60s, pink film was almost exclusively produced by small, independent studios, meaning that directors enjoyed a fair bit of creative freedom within the confines of the genre. This particular strand of pink film is represented by Kan Mukai’s extremely rare Blue Film Woman (1969), as well as by Secrets Behind the Wall (1965), made by one of the most important of the independent directors, Koji Wakamatsu. The enfant terrible of Japanese cinema, Wakamatsu formed his own production company in 1966 and made a series of startlingly provocative films that delivered a heady brew of sex, violence and radical politics. His one-time collaborator, the equally fierce Masao Adachi, is also represented here with Gushing Prayer (1971), which mixes sexual liberation, literature and subversive politics in another challenging work.

At the beginning of the 70s, two major studios, Toei and Nikkatsu, moved into the lucrative field of exploitation cinema after their audiences began to decline due to the encroachment of television and the increased number of American productions being shown on Japanese screens. Directors were allowed free rein so long as they delivered nudity at regular intervals, and many used that freedom to experiment with delirious visuals and/or to include anti-authority political messages. Nikkatsu’s bigger-budget ‘roman porno’ strand led to such visual delights as Masaru Konuma’s Wife to be Sacrificed (1974) and Noboru Tanaka’s Watcher in the Attic (1976). Nagisa Oshima, who had explored the leftist politics of the post-war student movement in Night and Fog in Japan (1960), used extreme sexuality in In the Realm of the Senses (1976) as an act of rebellion against his country’s repressive society (something that Masumura had done earlier in Red Angel and Manji).

The BFI season juxtaposes pinku eiga with non-exploitation films of the same period that deal with sexuality in a novel or frank manner. Ko Nakahira’s Crazed Fruit (1956) was the first film to focus on the wild youth of post-war Japan and opened the way for more sexual openness in Japanese cinema. Well-respected directors are represented too: Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers (1966) is a sharply observed black comedy that describes the life of a porn director, while Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes (1966) both explore a dark sensuality inseparable from violence.

Whether infamous shockers or art-house classics, the films in the Wild Japan season are all worth discovering or revisiting. London film lovers might have to cancel their Christmas plans…

Virginie Sélavy


My Winnipeg

The Electric Sheep team look back at the heroes and villains of 2008.


Waltz With Bashir/Persepolis
It seems somehow unfair to try and choose between Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir in deciding the best film of the year. Both superbly animated, autobiographical features, they are totally unique, powerful and refreshing in their own ways. Persepolis uses stunning black and white animation to tell Satrapi’s often humorous story about growing up a rebel after the 1979 revolution in Iran, while Waltz with Bashir is a very personal and brave attempt by Folman to come to terms with his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. Both are emotionally gripping, riveting films that are also terrifically stylish, making them an absolute pleasure to watch. SARAH CRONIN

My Winnipeg
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is among his finest work to date, combining documentary footage, theories on psycho-geography and the director’s typical left-field sexual anecdotes to lurid and devastating effect. Maddin has conjured a Canadian Brigadoon that is both lost to the developer’s wreaking ball and to reminiscences of itinerant residents who have long since moved on. My Winnipeg is a beguiling and loving homage to both the news footage and the director’s own home movies of the town itself and an unmissable, metatextual fever dream about places we’ve all loved and lost. ALEX FITCH

Savage Grace
Fifteen years after his critically acclaimed debut feature Swoon, Tom Kalin’s follow-up is another stunning, audacious and dazzlingly well realised exploration of the relation between sex and power, based on a disturbing real-life crime. Shot in deep, lush colours, and with a wonderfully versatile Julianne Moore in the central role, Savage Grace recounts the glittering rise and tragic fall of the aspiring American socialite Barbara Daly. Kalin brings a coolly compassionate spirit to this haunting tale of love and madness while excellent performances throughout lend the film an extra edge of enigmatic power and unsettling perversity. Undeniably graceful, gorgeously photographed but also brutally sharp. PAMELA JAHN

The Orphanage
Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage marks a powerful escape from the clutches of the ‘torture-porn’ franchises devouring the horror genre in recent years. The simplicity of a look, of the sound of footsteps, a long hallway disappearing into darkness, the sound of children whispering… suddenly the subconscious mind is given some credibility again. The Orphanage is almost entirely preoccupied with the topography of the mind and is extremely successful at evoking the (often frightening) symbolism of the past, of childhood, of memories best left undisturbed. There may have been better films in 2008, but The Orphanage got to me deepest. SIOUXZI MERNAGH

Man on Wire
James Marsh’s Man on Wire shocked and amazed me above anything else I’ve seen in years. It tells the story of French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who with the help of a small and fearless team, broke into the World Trade Centre in 1974. Taking with him an arsenal of equipment, he staged a feat of iconic proportions by walking between the two towers. If the heist-like nature of the narrative isn’t compelling enough, the emotional bond between the key players seen through modern-day talking heads and archived footage secures the film’s place as one of the most engaging documentaries of recent years. JAMES MERCHANT

Lust, Caution
Ang Lee’s haunting Lust, Caution examines the explicit affair between naí¯ve spy Tang Wei and government official Tony Leung against the backdrop of wartime China. Leung’s performance is a master-class in self-loathing, revealing a supposed embodiment of evil to be a world-weary company man who is aware of the shortcomings of the political power to which he has sold his soul. Lee presents a multi-layered recreation of 1940s Shanghai wherein even a mah-jong game is an exercise in alliance and betrayal. Skilfully adapted from an Eileen Chang short story, Lust, Caution is as suspenseful as it is emotionally complex. JOHN BERRA

Far North
With Michelle Yeoh magnificent in the central role, Asif Kapadia’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature The Warrior is another stunning epic folk tale, set amid the savage beauty of the Arctic Circle, in an environment where life is a constant, violent fight for survival. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY


Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth
When making a nostalgic film about lost possibilities and childhood heroes on a limited budget, you sometimes end up with a work of genius like My Winnipeg and sometimes you get ill-conceived and tedious claptrap like Captain Eager. Inspired by the classic British comic book character Dan Dare and 1930s adventure serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, this is a film that tries to be an innovative, funny and affectionate homage to the past but fails on almost every level, while criminally wasting two of this country’s finest comic talents – Mark Heap and Tasmin Grieg. ALEX FITCH

Awake is a ridiculous thriller that strives for novelty by exaggerating, or exploiting, a medical statistic concerning the number of people who wake up during open heart surgery. When a bland junior business tycoon, portrayed by jobbing Jedi Hayden Christiansen, becomes conscious during a life or death operation, he discovers that he is the victim of a conspiracy masterminded by his new wife and his surgeon. However, his physical paralysis means that Christiansen spends much of the film relaxing on his back while his voice-over attempts to take care of the acting. Not to be viewed without anaesthetic. JOHN BERRA

Franí§ois Ozon’s first English-language feature, a foolish adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor’s unduly neglected novel Angel (1957), may be his most love-it-or-hate-it film to date. It is a strained, disastrous mixture of camp spoof and lurid melodrama, a would-be satire of Hollywood dramas of the Douglas Sirk variety that completely misses the mark. PAMELA JAHN

My Blueberry Nights
While not necessarily the absolute worst film to come out this year, Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights was certainly the most disappointing. The director’s first foray into Hollywood resulted in a film inferior in every way to his Hong Kong-based work, while the most egregious offence was the misguided casting that saw the inexperienced singer Norah Jones and the mediocre Jude Law take on the two leads. The story itself is a mere confection, with Jones waitressing her way across America after she’s jilted by her boyfriend. Thankfully, Wong Kar Wai quickly restored his reputation by re-realising his 1994 film Ashes of Time, a beautiful, elegiac picture that helped dull the painful memory of My Blueberry Nights. SARAH CRONIN


Arch-chav Guy Ritchie’s pathetic films are littered with embarrassing caricatures: mockney wide boys, smart-arse gangsters, Fagin-esque thieves and air-head tarts. This ridiculously contrived, self-consciously ‘cool’ macho wankathon was utterly boring, adolescent and stupid. But what’s most reprehensible about it is its glamorisation of the most disgusting elements of male, thuggish society: greed, misogyny, egotism, immorality, narcissism and random violence. JAMES DC

27 Dresses

This film is a triumph of formula, a mastery of the Machine:

1. Distill the identity of the ‘modern woman’ into one crisp, shiny, easily opened package.

2. Extract money from the ‘modern woman’ by marketing a tried and tested ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride (unless you’re younger and blonder)’ movie to her.

3. Stew the ‘modern woman’ in saccharine juices until her brain is pink and pliable.

4. Await congratulations from film investors.

Unfortunately, 27 Dresses grossed $160 million worldwide, with around 75% of the audience being female (boxofficeguru.com). And this from a female director… SIOUXZI MERNAGH


Unlike most of the other pundits writing this end of year review, I haven’t been to the cinema. 2008 was a grand year for cinema-phobia as far as I’m concerned. Despite my love of the art form I have never been a regular cinema-goer. My preferred time to go to a screening is mid-week, mid-afternoon, with no companions apart from my fellow strangers. Sadly, work and life have thwarted my indulgence in that proclivity, as has the fact that there has been very little fodder on offer that I have wanted to squander my cash on. I haven’t even attended press screenings. Indeed, most of my cinematic consumption has come via conduits such as DVDs and the Web. However, (here’s the me, me, me bit) I have been proactive in producing cinematic events. All of them low-key, thoroughly amateur and jolly good fun in a kind of botched together from Sellotape and twigs way. In the summer, I started an occasional evening entitled Philip Winter’s Lucky Dip (this title permitted me to decide what I wanted to screen the night before). At these events, I screened an eclectic range of films – local history documentaries, British transport films, instructional videos, Super 8 non-sequitur, YouTube chaff. Experimentalists like William English, Oliver Mezger, Fari Bradley, David Leister and Toby Clarkson presented 16mm and video works live, and as master of ceremonies I talked nonsense in between. The screenings took place in a room above a pub adjacent to the pub’s Thai kitchen, which provided a constant background din. Audiences weren’t huge but we all had fun, albeit of the shoddy variety, and best of all, it was free. I am glad I haven’t visited a cinema in 12 months.


Madame Tutli-Putli

Format: DVD

Release date: 24 November 2008

Distributor: Cinema16

295 mins

Having showcased the best shorts from Britain, Europe and America, the Cinema16 team are taking on the world in their latest two-disc collection. It’s no easy task to encompass the entirety of world cinema in 16 short films and, as is to be expected, there are significant gaps. Sadly, there are no works from the Middle East or Eastern Europe, and African cinema is represented by just one film, Borom sarret (1963). Considered to be Africa’s first contribution to modern film, Ousmane Sembene’s portrait of a Senegalese cart driver is incongruously older than the other films in the collection (most of which date from the 1980s onwards). As such, despite its beauty and importance, it highlights a need for more modern examples of African filmmaking.

Geographical bias aside, the DVDs present a wonderfully eclectic snapshot of contemporary world cinema. The animations are particularly strong. Sylvain Chomet’s The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998) contains the same winning combination of absurdity and slapstick which made his 2003 feature, Belleville Rendez-Vous, such a pleasure to watch. With a similar nod to silent classics, the stop-motion animation Madame Tutli-Putli (2007) is a magical work of art. Having taken four years to complete, the 17-minute short introduces the extraordinary technique of superimposing live action human eyes onto animated puppets. The added human dimension results in an intensified sense of fear as we follow Madame Tutli-Putli on her increasingly sinister train journey. This emotional depth is surpassed, however, by Adam Elliot’s poignant work, Uncle (1996). Elliot’s endearingly naive models and his tender focus on the little details of life emphasise the vulnerability of human experience.

The ‘little things that happen underground or indoors’ is also the inspiration behind Guillermo del Toro’s Doña Lupe (1983-84). Made when del Toro was just 19 years old, this rarely seen film follows two corrupt, drug-dealing police officers as they try to outwit an elderly widow. The resulting dialogue is far funnier than the disappointing comedy of the collection – cult splatter film Forklift Driver Klaus (2000). Other acclaimed directors who make it into Cinema16’s selection are Guy Maddin and Park Chan-wook, who both provide visually arresting works. Maddin films Isabella Rossellini’s ode to her father Roberto – My Dad is 100 Years Old (2005) – with characteristically dreamlike beauty whilst Chan-wook’s Kafkaesque Simpan (1999) has a powerful, stylised quality also apparent in Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s Sergio Leone-inspired Sikumi (2007) and Naoto Yamakawa’s terrifically witty Attack on a Bakery (1982).

Many of the live-action contributions focus on the idea of coming of age, with two examples from the UK – Simon Ellis’s gritty tale of masculinity, Soft (2006), and Andrea Arnold’s well-acted but slightly contrived Wasp (2003) – and two from New Zealand: the recent film Two Cars, One Night (2003), and Jane Campion’s haunting A Girl’s Own Story (1984). Despite being best known for her award-winning features, Campion has said before that she believes the short film format forces filmmakers to be more creative as plot is less important. In keeping with Campion’s comments, the films in this collection, although slightly patchy both in quality and geographical range, all reveal a willingness to experiment that should inspire and entertain any cinephile.

Eleanor McKeown


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Indiepop is perhaps the last bastion of the underground. Too nerdy to be really cool, too odd to be mainstream, to gosh-darn happy to be ‘alternative’, it falls down the cracks of accepted ‘indie’ music. Occasionally, one of the dozens of DIY bands springing up from Stockholm to Brooklyn will break through and give indiepop a good name. The next band to hit the big time are New York’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Emerging from a vibrant indie scene huddling in Lower East Side clubs like Cake Shop (cupcakes and records anyone? Yes please!), with perfect pop tunes, boy/girl vocals, luscious harmonies and inspiration drawn from the likes of The Pastels, My Bloody Valentine and Black Tambourine, they bring us another step nearer to twirling, swirling pop perfection. Their debut album is due out in February 2009 on Fortuna Pop! and they are touring the UK from December 2 to 18 with The Wedding Present. For more details, visit their website. LUCY HURST


1- Clueless (1995)
Timeless. I’ve probably seen it more times than any other. When I went to see No Country for Old Men in the theatre I thought it was stupid. Later on that night Clueless came on TV and I was like: ‘Now THIS is a true cinematic masterpiece!’

2- The Sixth Sense (1999)
One of the only movies that has ever struck a chord with me and made me cry. Being that I am an emotionless robot, that is quite a feat.

3- Fat Girl (í€ Ma Soeur) (2001)
It’s about two sisters. One is sad and fat while the other is charming and beautiful. I’m an only child but I always had fucked up female friendships growing up, so I really related to this movie. It captures the complex dichotomy of love and envy that is so prevalent in female relationships.


4- Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
I saw this when I was about nine and it had a really huge impact on me. It’s about these best friends who end up saving the world by starting the most amazing band ever, aligning the planets and causing world peace. They also travel through history (I had a really big crush on Joan of Arc). At the end they get the medieval princesses they rescued to be in their band, which is why I like co-ed bands the best.

5- All Jane Austen Movies
I used to watch these with my mom all the time growing up. The four-hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth is probably my favourite but Emma is not to be underestimated (its contemporary remake, Clueless, would have been my other favourite movie if Peggy had not already chosen it!).

6- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The modern remake with Johnny Depp was a bit Michael Jackson-y because only Gene Wilder could play an eccentric old candy tycoon that wanted a little boy to leave his family and live with him NOT SEEM CREEPY AT ALL.


7- Wild at Heart (1990)
Probably my favourite David Lynch movie. It is not as obscure as a lot of beloved Lynch stuff, although it does have its share of weirdness (Willem Dafoe!). The characters are great, especially Sailor and Lula. It’s very hard to steer a love story away from cliché but they really nail it here.

8- The Sandlot (1993)
I’ve seen this probably a hundred times. It’s a kids’ movie but it’s so goofy and full of fun moments it somehow transcends that. Again, great characters such as Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez, ‘The Great Hambino’ and ‘Yeah-Yeah’.

9- Wild Zero (2000)
A Japanese alien zombie movie featuring the (awesome) garage rock band Guitar Wolf playing themselves. But with superpowers! Especially fun to watch with the drinking game feature on the DVD (you have to drink a shot every time a listed thing happens on screen, including ‘hair combing’ which happens more than you’d think!).

10- The Seventh Seal (1957)
This is a clichéd ‘film nerd’ pick, but it’s undeniably good. I saw this recently and was amazed how accessible it is. I was expecting an almost cripplingly high-minded art film – full of ‘visual clues’ and ‘tropes’, which it does have, but it is also weirdly funny. Although there are some dreary moments, it’s not slow or overly moralising. It’s mostly just absolutely gorgeous and deeply moving.